The fall 2016 season is going to be a banner year for TV.
Let me rephrase that: the fall 2016 season had better be a banner year for TV, given how much the shows are costing to make. From new seasons of current shows, to premieres of new shows, this season is breaking records for some of the most expensive TV shows ever made.
Not too long ago, the final seasons of Friends made huge headlines for hitting the $10 million per episode mark, because the stars demanded such high salaries. But now, dozens of HBO, Netflix, Showtime, and Amazon shows that are closing in on that.
So without further ado, here are the most expensive TV shows of 2016, and their cost related to the most expensive shows in history.
#5) Netflix Marco Polo (current) and HBO Rome (2005-2007) – $9 million per episode (tie)
Marco Polo and Rome both cost about $9 million per episode, although with inflation, Rome was slightly more expensive.
Both shows required huge location budgets and expensive large scenes (as well as huge battle scenes for Rome), which explained the high cost.
#4) Game of Thrones (current) – $10 million per episode
Game of Thrones started off cheap — at least in comparison to the other shows on this list, at $6 million per episode. But the latest season cost a whopping $10 million, according to Forbes. Still, in comparison, it was a good value.
It’s obvious what makes this show expensive: the battles — but you may be surprised to know how expensive some of the battles were. The Battle of Blackwater alone cost $8 million. And newer battles have reportedly passed the $10 million mark.
#3) NBC Friends (1994-2004) – $10 million per episode (tie, sort of)
At $10 million per episode toward the end of the series, Friends was the most expensive show of its kind, and the number 3 most expensive show of all time.
The cost came down to salary demands of the cast, who all wanted $1 million-plus for each episode. NBC, desperate to keep one of their highest rated shows in history, met their demands.
Adjusted for cost, in today’s dollars the show would be closer to $13 million.
#2) Netflix Sense8 (current) – $12 million per episode (approx)
There’s no exact number for the budget of this show, but estimates range from $100 million to $200 million total. Given that the show has 12 episodes, we estimated the per-episode cost to be around $12 million.
Sense8 is definitely the most expensive show of the 2016 season, and second most expensive in history (especially when you account for inflation, the following show beats it by a landslide).
Why is it so expensive? The show is shot on-location all over the world, and moving the crew is expensive. Episodes of the show have required thousands of extras, and filming has required helicopters and hundreds of cars. Add to that the cost of special effects and a highly-paid production staff, and the price starts to make sense.
#1) NBC ER (1994-2009) – $13 million per episode
Somewhat surprisingly, nobody has yet officially broken the record that ER set many years ago for most expensive TV show. According to The Baltimore Sun, back in 1998, NBC set the record by spending $13 million per episode for the show. That’s nearly $20 million per episode in today’s dollars.
What did NBC get for all of that? Not much. The cost was mostly due to the salaries of the biggest stars — like George Clooney. NBC was concerned that if it lost ER (this around the time Seinfeld ended), its ratings would collapse.
It needn’t have worried, though, because the ratings collapsed anyway, and Clooney soon left.
Bonus: Amazon The Grand Tour (current) – $6+ million per episode
While it doesn’t make it into the top 5 most expensive TV shows of all time, Amazon’s new The Grand Tour is its most expensive show, and could join the top 5 soon.
The show features Top Gear alums Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, all of whom are getting paid a pretty penny. It also includes the production crew from Top Gear who are also making good money.
But the real expense is filming. Just the opening scene costs $3.2 million because it required 6 jets, 150 cars, 2,000 extras, acrobats, and stilt-walkers. The crew and set are moved all over the world for each episode.
So that’s it, the most expensive TV shows of 2016 really are some of the most expensive shows in history. Will all the money be worth it? Only time will tell.